There’s a bit of a recurring theme to a lot of transport commentary in recent times – that Auckland Transport needs to “up its game”. I touched on it recently in regards to communications, but it’s also covered well in this Newsroom article about the standoff between Auckland Transport and Councillors in relation to the most recent Statement of Intent. This is a telling extract from the Newsroom article:
Councillor Chris Darby expressed “significant concerns about the AT Statement of Intent” which were supposed to outline objectives and intentions for the next three years. “AT is about one year and even on that front it does not reflect the higher ranking documents.”
He listed numerous failures by Auckland Transport to adopt the council’s wishes, saying its statement did not reflect the Auckland Plan 2050, the regional land transport plan, approach to climate change, policy on disposal of assets via another council organisation, Panuku Auckland, road safety or other council requests.
Councillor Richard Hills said Auckland Transport’s document was not in the “transformational place where everything else has been” and declared himself “a little bit ‘whelmed by some of the details in here”.
The request to reallocate space on road space ought to be implemented.
The deputy mayor Bill Cashmore joined in, saying transport was a large part of the council budget and work. “We’ve replaced virtually half the board. It is a new chief executive and executive. It is time to assert our wishes on to that board in a way that is agreeable.”
It’s pleasing to see councillors finally raising these issues rather than rubber stamping the SOI’s like they have done in the past.
The Council’s dissatisfaction with Auckland Transport came through again yesterday in a Planning Committee item on Auckland’s road safety crisis. You can watch the whole item below:
For those who can’t dedicate an hour and a half of their lives, Radio NZ picked up some of the key points in this article – which again highlights the frustration of the Council with Auckland Transport’s performance:
Mr Levy appeared before combative Auckland councillors at a Planning Committee meeting today and came under fire with questions about what was being done to reduce the grim statistics.
Mayor Phil Goff said the figures were “appalling” and called for a better explanation than what was provided by AT.
“Why has Auckland done so badly? Because if we don’t understand the why, we don’t know what needs to be done to resolve it,” Mr Goff said.
Councillor Linda Cooper said she was disappointed nothing appeared to have changed since the implementation of the regional fuel tax, which helps to fund road safety.
“My understanding was there were going to be huge safety improvements – huge. I did vote for it with the understanding there would be something for my community, rural and poor. I see four investigations into footpaths here.”…
…Councillor Daniel Newman said he was “underwhelmed” with AT’s report, while Josephine Bartley questioned whether the agency was just doing what it wants rather than what Aucklanders want.
“I have people in my area that have had to go to the media, that have had to start petitions to get Auckland Transport to do something. And you don’t listen and you don’t act.”
This all begs the question of “what on earth is going wrong with Auckland Transport?” I think there are a few explanations.
Firstly, most of the issues raised by Councillors and us are not new, but rather we have run out of patience with Auckland Transport. The road safety crisis started in about 2012 when the long-running reduction in deaths and serious injuries was reversed and these numbers started to creep upwards. Yet it wasn’t until late 2017 that a proper review of road safety was even commissioned, and even then it seems as though the Board had to sidestep management to get the review done in the first place. In other areas, like making our streets more pedestrian friendly and giving buses more priority, the arguments have gone on for years and progress has been glacially slow. Not a single metre of bus lane was added in Auckland Transport’s first two years, for example.
Secondly, and I think this is linked to the first issue, there is now good political alignment on transport between the Council and Central Government. When Auckland Transport’s two funders were constantly arguing with each other, it was probably fairly easy for AT to pick whatever side it most preferred to align with on a particular issue – or to get into the habit of doing absolutely nothing to ensure it didn’t annoy either of its funding partners. But times have changed enormously now, there’s strong alignment and there’s funding from ATAP and the Regional Fuel Tax. Therefore everyone is rightly impatient to actually see progress made.
Auckland Transport will need to work hard to “up its game” and regain the trust and support that has slipped away in recent months, not helped by stuff-ups like the RLTP debacle. This will require more than just the usual “talk and no action” that has plagued AT in recent years (remember the Statement of Imagination). It will require bold moves that actually happen at pace and deliver real outcomes and it will require vastly better public communication and explanation for why AT is doing what it’s doing.
So come on Auckland Transport, it’s time to up your game. Otherwise it’s going to get ugly.